At what point in this chronological sequence of published writings do you say the author had ‘got’ the concept of ‘evolution by natural selection’, and hence deserves priority? The actual use of those words is obviously not important, so it is the principle that any change which aids the survival of the affected individual (and its similarly-affected progeny) over the unaffected members of its own species in the same environment will proliferate.
Wheresoever, therefore, all things together (that is all the parts of one whole) happened like as if they were made for the sake of something, these were preserved, having been appropriately constituted by an internal spontaneity; and whatsoever things were not thus constituted, perished, and still perish. Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming them into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to their offspring. Al-Jahiz (776-868)
Could one not say that, in the fortuitous combinations of the productions of nature, as there must be some characterized by a certain relation of fitness which are able to subsist, it is not to be wondered at that this fitness is present in all the species that are currently in existence? Chance, one would say, produced an innumerable multitude of individuals; a small number found themselves constructed in such a manner that the parts of the animal were able to satisfy its needs; in another infinitely greater number, there was neither fitness nor order: all of these latter have perished. Animals lacking a mouth could not live; others lacking reproductive organs could not perpetuate themselves… The species we see today are but the smallest part of what blind destiny has produced. Maupertuis 1745
The movement of nature turns on two immovable pivots: one, the illimitable fecundity she has given to all species: the other, the innumerable difficulties which reduce the results of that fecundity. Buffon 1756
In consequence of the extremely rapid rate of increase of the smaller, and especially of the most imperfect, animals, their numbers would become so great as to prove injurious to the conservation of breeds, and to the progress already made towards more perfect organisation, unless nature had taken precautions to keep them down within certain fixed limits which she cannot exceed…….
The strongest and best armed for attack eat the weaker, and the greater kinds eat the smaller. Lamarck 1809
Of the accidental varieties of man which would occur among the first and scattered inhabitants of the middle regions of Africa, some one would be better fitted than the others to bear the diseases of the country. This race would subsequently multiply, while the others would decrease; not only from their inability to sustain the attacks of disease, but from their incapacity of contending with their more vigourous neighbours. The colour of this vigourous race I take for granted, from what has already been said, would be dark. But the same disposition to form varieties still existing, a darker and darker race would in the course of time occur; and as the darkest would be the best fitted for the climate, this would at length become the most prevalent, if not the only race, in the particular country in which it had originated. Wells 1818
All the plants of a given country are at war one with another. The first which establish themselves by chance in a particular spot, tend, by the mere occupancy of space, to exclude other species—the greater choke the smaller, the longest livers replace those which last for a shorter period, the more prolific gradually make themselves masters of the ground, which species multiplying more slowly would otherwise fill. De Candolle 1820
Not that individual lives have actually improved; but considered in the aggregate, such as were originally constituted for outliving their contemporaries, and who continued to exist under the most favourable circumstances, ultimately stand prominent, competing amongst themselves for protracted longevity, to the exclusion of all the rest. Indeed this natural selection of particular lives, out of a very considerable mass, repeatedly occurs among centenaries, at later periods and according to their respective degrees of constitutional vigour; so that very little difference may appear in the probabilities of living one more year, between two individuals of whom the ages differed even to the extent of twenty years. Corbaux 1829
The self-regulating adaptive disposition of organised life may, in part, be traced to the extreme fecundity of Nature, who, as before stated, has, in all the varieties of her offspring, a prolific power much beyond (in many cases a thousandfold) what is necessary to fill up the vacancies caused by senile decay. As the field of existence is limited and pre-occupied, it is only the hardier, more robust, better suited to circumstance individuals who are able to struggle forward to maturity, these inhabiting only the situations to which they have superior adaption and greater power of occupancy than any other kind; the weaker, less circumstance-suited being permanently destroyed. Matthew 1831
In a large herd of cattle, the strongest bull drives from him all the younger and weaker individuals of his own sex, and remains sole master of the herd; so that all the young that are produced must have had their origin from one which possessed the maximum of power and physical strength; and which, consequently, in the struggle for existence, was the best able to maintain his ground, and defend himself from every enemy.
In like manner, among animals which procure their food by means of their agility, strength or delicacy of sense, the one best organized must always obtain the greatest quantity; and must, therefore, become physically the strongest, and be thus enabled, by routing its opponents, to transmit its superior qualities to a greater number of offspring. Blyth 1835
Both Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace ceded priority to Matthew, even though all of the above makes it clear that it is impossible to determine who actually has priority. As far as I am concerned, priority is an absolute irrelevance, and can be of technical interest only to historians. People should not be part of science. Like philosophy, science is about ideas (and data), not about people (excepting anthropology and psychology of course). Oxygen would have exactly the same properties if it had been discovered by Lavoisier, Priestley or Scheele. Yes, Patrick Matthew has been under-rated, and his contribution to evolution theory should be better acknowledged in future writing, but the last thing I want is for the theory formerly known as Darwinism to be known as Matthewism. It is ‘evolution by natural selection’, which in itself is a nonsense anyway, since it is like saying a car is by its steering mechanism. Matthew did indeed enunciate it, but the world of science is right to point out that he didn’t develop it. However, the world of science is incredibly inconsistent about this issue, since Gregor Mendel only enunciated the principle of particulate inheritance, yet he is regarded as the father of genetics and has an -ism named after him. As it happens, particulate inheritance is also a nonsense with regard to evolution, though not with regard to physiology. Genetic determinism is the worst idea that science has ever come up with.
See also a related essay on Plagiarism.